Monday, February 25, 2013

Lulu's question to you: Are there reasons not to get licensed?

I recently debated licensure with some of my more-seasoned colleagues, and it became (unintentionally) a heated debate.  As we were discussing interns delaying or just not getting licensed, it began to occur to me that there may be reasons not to get licensed.  So I'm asking you: is or are there any reason(s) not to pass the ARE and become a licensed architect?

While I heartily advocate licensure, I realize that it may not be the right choice for everyone.  So what would make it not a right choice for someone? Tell me via email or in the comments--I'm betting there are some interesting situations out there that my colleagues and I haven't thought about.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Will having a life hold me back?

I was talking with an intern recently who is married with two small children. She overheard her boss mention that she (the boss) might send the intern on an overnight trip to meet with some clients because another architect couldn't attend. The intern mentioned it to her husband that night, and he was uncomfortable with her being gone overnight.  For her and her spouse, family is important, and neither she nor her husband liked the idea of her being away overnight for work.  Her work schedule with her firm is oriented around her family life as it is; she works through lunch so she can leave early to pick up her kids from day care, and she rarely if ever works overtime. The intern expressed her concerns to me regarding her future career path, and even her job security: "If I make family a priority, is that going to hurt me at work?"

We can quibble the idea of a spouse quashing our ability to travel for work, but that's not the point of the question.  We all have something (or somethings) that we like outside of work. Maybe it's family, maybe it's a hobby, maybe it's a second job that allows you to flex a different kind of creativity, maybe it's volunteer work, or maybe it's a combination of these or others. Any human being cannot only work at their job/profession; it makes them incomplete as people and more prone to burnout. Yet as my colleagues and I have gone further into architecture and up the ladder at my firm, I see common threads in promotion, raises, and job description changes.  Advancement in all its many faces:
  •  ...comes to those who do the work required with exceptional quality. People can be taught how to use software or how to look up something in the 2009 IBC or where the insulation goes in a brick wall section, but people can't always be taught how to care.  Exceptional quality in your work has to do with caring, knowing why something is the way it is, or knowing all the possible exceptions or issues or concerns with a piece of code, or checking your work for thoroughness and even spelling/punctuation errors.
  • ...comes to those who take the time necessary to do that work.  Sometimes--not all the time, but sometimes--that takes more than 40 hours in a week. It doesn't necessarily go to the person who's always in the office, 50+ hours a week, but I've never seen it go to the person who's right in at 8 and right out at 5, regardless of what the project requires at that moment.
  • ...comes to those who act and speak/write with respect, clarity, professionalism, and integrity. All the good design skill or technical competency in the world cannot be overcome by someone who lays out of work when there's a deadline or writes snarky emails to design team members or ignores clients.

If you work at a firm that doesn't allow for a life outside of work, I would personally beware.  I've also said here before that there are two un-ideal situations at work: never working overtime and always working overtime. Never working overtime means I can't count on you when there's a sudden emergency or deadline, which happens on even the best-managed projects. Always working overtime means you're overwhelmed or haven't been trained properly, or you're employed at one of those workhouse-type firms. But these may come off as platitudes for the intern I described at the beginning of this post.  What are her options professionally if she's highly competent, but 40 hours a week is all she can do?

My answer is that she has plenty of options if she chooses carefully.  If she works on a lot of local projects (to which she can travel to and from in the same day), there's no reason she can't manage those projects, especially after she's licensed. If she also sticks with smaller projects and project types, there may be less of a chance of having insane deadlines and tons of work to do on them (which would require a lot of that evening and weekend work time).  But here's the other unfortunate truth: interns are the people that work nights and weekends, because they're taking direction from architects.  Getting licensed will help open the doors she needs to be able to leave at 5 because someone else is doing the drawing.  Another option that will help her advancement is being willing to work at home a bit on weeknights, maybe after the kids have gone to bed.  Having a laptop (or an iPad, as I do) allows project architects and project managers to answer questions and keep people moving without having to be in the building ten hours a day.

But there will be limitations. One of the reasons I was given a major promotion last year is that I am (and have been) willing to take on big, tough complicated projects with intense deadlines.  I'm willing and able to travel to remote areas on multiple puddle-jumper planes to meet with clients for four days at a time.  I've been willing to do what the project required, regardless of the size or scope of the project.  It's that last part that makes me more flexible and allows my firm some breathing room when doing staffing, and that flexibility make their lives easier...and I've been rewarded for that.  And while I don't have children, I do work with men and women who have children and have also been willing to travel and work long hours when it was needed, and they were promoted accordingly.  

The bottom line: choosing family unilaterally over work/career will not completely limit your professional growth, but there will be some missed opportunities.  And choosing work unilaterally over a personal life and family will make you boring, bitter, and burned out. And these truths hold regardless of your profession.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What to do when you're over your head...on a project

Another inevitable fact of being an intern is that you will end up getting in over your head on a project. Perhaps your boss likes what you do and how well you do it, so s/he gives you a bigger role with more responsibilities.  Or perhaps a small project turns out to be like an onion: it has lots more layers that you can see from the outside, and peeling those layers makes you cry.  Either way, there are few things worse than feeling overwhelmed and unable to handle a project, especially early in your career when you're still developing your skill set.  It leaves you feeling adrift and anxious, and it might even leave you thinking you're going to get fired if anyone sees this or figures it out. 

The first thing to remember when running a project as an intern is that a licensed architect must supervise your work. On a regular basis, a licensed architect needs to look at what you're doing, answer questions, provide feedback, and review most if not everything you send out of the office. That process can be in person or electronic, but it needs to happen. If someone isn't doing that, then you're going to have to manage up.  Send out the message to your office, send urgent emails, and even stand in the doorway/walkway of your manager's office/cubicle and insist that someone review what you're doing and answer questions.  If you have a few years' experience, you may think that you're answering everything just fine and doing well, but unbeknownst to you there are repercussions to what you're asking and writing in your emails and RFIs and documents. The seasoned eye of a competent licensed architect can stop the in-over-your-head phenomenon before it ever starts.

I mentioned there are few worse things that feeling over your head. One of those few worse things is having your mistakes discovered after the fact. If you're feeling like you're not able to do the right thing on a project, or you don't have the skill to respond to a project's challenges, the time to ask for help is the moment your start to feel that oh-dear-God-what-have-I-gotten-myself-into feeling. Asking for input, review, feedback, and advice is one of the primary ways that architects learn. Ask for help before it becomes a problem, and ask for help when it's a problem.  It's okay to admit ignorance within the walls of your firm. If you're unlicensed with less than, say, seven years' experience, no one is expecting you to know everything.  

Frankly, no one's ever expecting you to know everything, even after you're licensed.  Architecture is a big, wide, deep field, and you can't know it all.  I have 12.5 years' experience and manage large projects, and yet I still will ask my boss for help in writing a good email or making a judgment call on how to make a floor plan work.  My boss has almost 20 years' experience and is one of the principals of our firm, and yet he still asks me questions about the ADA and various healthcare codes and guidelines. Everyone asks for help and advice--it's just the nature of architectural practice.